Sweden defends immunity gamble after country records most COVID-19 deaths per capita in Europe for seven days straight

Sweden has recorded the most COVID-19 deaths in Europe per capita for the past week, according to data from the University of Oxford.

Our World in Data shows it averaged 6.08 deaths per 1 million people from May 14 to 20. Over this same week, the United Kingdom averaged 5.57 deaths per million, Belgium averaged 4.28, Italy averaged 2.97 and France averaged 2.26.

Although Sweden has a lower overall case total compared with these countries - it has recorded over 31,000 - it's death rate is higher, possibly because it never issued a formal lockdown and is instead relying on citizens to stay at home if they're sick so the country can build herd immunity.

Johan Giesecke, Sweden's former chief epidemiologist who is now a health adviser to the World Health Organization, believes countrywide lockdowns delay the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and he defends the country's policy.

"There is very little we can do to prevent this spread," Giesecke wrote in the Lancet medical journal earlier in May.

"A lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear.

"I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in one year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken."

Sweden's total death toll is currently 3831, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Sweden's state epidemiologist Ander Tegnall, who has been leading the country's response, dismissed the new per capita deaths figures.

"This is something we should look at when it's all over," Tegnall told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

"It is, of course, terrible that we have such a higher death toll at our elderly care homes, and there are lessons to be learned for those who work in these institutions."

Giesecke told Business Insider that although Sweden's policy hadn't yet been successful in curbing the outbreak, it would be in the future.

He believes the country's total cases and death toll will keep rising in the coming weeks, but it is "on the downward slope".

"When countries with a lockdown open up, they will get their cases," he says.